Charismatic Rowland Hall lifer and Emmy winner Jared Ruga ’06 is apparently just as comfortable in the spotlight as he is behind the camera. On May 29, he flexed his storytelling prowess and delivered a speech chock-full of good advice for almost-grads at our annual Alumni Senior Breakfast, a school tradition since 1924.
Jared told his story in three acts: he waxed nostalgic about his time here; dissected his college life as a triple-major at the University of San Diego (USD); and recounted how he won an Emmy for Quiet Heroes, a documentary examining the Utah AIDS epidemic and the one doctor and her team that stepped up to treat thousands of critically ill, socially stigmatized patients.
The 30-year-old alumnus wove seven key insights into his talk.
Talented people usually hate their work. You have to finish it and show it to others anyway. Because standing behind imperfect work gives you the confidence to try it another time.
“Hate your work but show it anyway”
By the time Jared reached the Upper School, he knew he wanted to make movies, and he did. For the Distinction program—a now-defunct optional thesis project that, if successfully completed, resulted in graduation honors—he masterminded a feature-length teen thriller. But Jared procrastinated on his work, worrying his Distinction committee members. “I ended up not finishing the film until the night before the premiere,” he said. “And then I watched, beat for beat, in that crowded theater, and caught literal typos on screen, and saw that some of my non-actors’ performances weren’t made any better projected 20 feet high.”
Jared wryly confessed to seniors that the thriller, Sanctuary Disrupted, is not his best work. “But at that point in time, it was,” he added. “Talented people usually hate their work. You have to finish it and show it to others anyway. Because standing behind imperfect work gives you the confidence to try it another time with something else. And if you go through that process enough times, eventually you might land on something enough people like.”
As hard as it is for people you care about deeply to fall out of your life, the alternative—connecting only superficially—is so much worse.
“Connect deeply with others even when it’s temporary”
Jared and high school best friend Isabel Carpenter ’06 “weren’t the emotional types,” he said, but that changed with their pre-college goodbye that ended in a sob-filled hug. They still talk, only about once a year, but that’s OK: our lives are often transient, Jared posited, and roles such as friend, mentor, partner, etc., may be filled by different people at different times. “It doesn’t cheapen what you had with them in the moments your lives intersected,” he told seniors. “And it shouldn’t dissuade you from connecting deeply with the next round of candidates…Because as hard as it is for people you care about deeply to fall out of your life, the alternative—connecting only superficially—is so much worse.”
“Stick with your grit even when it’s hard”
Jared started college with a freshman roommate who wouldn’t talk to him, and mostly boring classes—“Rowland Hall had prepared me so well that I didn’t feel academically challenged until my junior year,” he said. But he trusted that circumstances would improve, and soon hit his stride academically, socially, and extracurricularly—through running the student TV station, participating in student government, and more. Jared earned his share of perfect grades at USD, but said the one he’s most proud of is a C+ in calculus, a required course that he kept dropping. In his last semester, he failed the midterm—but then poured his energy into acing the final. He passed the class and graduated magna cum laude from the honors program. “I didn’t transfer away from USD after a rocky start, and I didn’t drop calculus because I was hellbent on graduating as planned,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, but it went my way in the end because I committed to making it happen.”
“Accept the wisdom of life seasons” and “Recharge your souls”
Jared is now openly gay, but didn’t come out until early adulthood. By the time he started law school at 24, he still hadn’t been in a relationship. “While I was so precociously successful by so many other metrics, what I thought was the deepest, most human experience we can have had eluded me,” he said. So he dove into dating, even to the detriment of his usually high grades. “You can have it all, you just can’t have it all at once,” Jared said. “Life has seasons for a reason.” Make time for the things that feed your soul, he advised. Pursuits such as relationships, hobbies, and volunteering are “just as important as the traditional metrics of success like degrees, accolades, money,” Jared said. “Success only actually feels good when you can celebrate it with others, and when it serves a greater purpose.”
The scourge of the AIDS crisis in the ’80s and ’90s is a crucial part of Queer history that we in younger generations must understand and appreciate.
On winning the Emmy: “Prefer life management over life planning” and “Pick a path and just do the work until it, with luck, catches fire”
Jared first heard the story of Dr. Kristen Ries and physician's assistant Maggie Snyder—the main subjects of Quiet Heroes, pictured with Jared, top—from one of his law professors. “I was deeply touched by what Kristen and Maggie had done, and embarrassed that as a politically active 26-year-old gay man who was born and raised Salt Lake City, I had never heard their story,” Jared said. “The scourge of the AIDS crisis in the ’80s and ’90s is a crucial part of Queer history that we in younger generations must understand and appreciate.”
So Jared’s professor connected him with the two women, and the emotionally draining—but highly rewarding—project began soon after. “Quiet Heroes was a difficult film to make,” Jared admitted. “For nearly a year of the film’s production lifecycle, I wanted to just throw in the towel and focus on something else that wouldn’t cause me so much heartburn.” Driven in part by Salt Lake City’s supportive LGBTQ community, Jared and his team charged forward and ultimately earned a spot at the Sundance Film Festival, then secured distribution deals. A subsequent TV showing qualified Quiet Heroes for a Daytime Emmy, and the documentary won in its category—even edging out an Oprah’s Book Club special. The filmmaking journey wasn’t easy, but it was character building, and it helped Jared get over his “analysis paralysis”: “Sometimes you have to just roll up your sleeves and start doing the work, without any expectation of its success,” he said. “Trusting your instincts will probably nudge you in the right direction.”
Jared closed by telling seniors that no one does anything worth doing without help, and he thanked everyone who aided him along the way. “I continue to be motivated and touched by your faith in me,” he said, “It’s the fuel inside that burns brighter every day.” Echoing his early advice, he encouraged students to be bold. “You’ll fail, probably publicly. You’ll love people who don’t love you back. You’ll say mean things you wish you hadn’t. And you’ll take for granted some of the most important ingredients to your health and success. But know that even though you won’t be perfect, you’re well positioned to make these choices. You have a solid foundation of skills and deep community support behind you.”